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Longitudinal Care Patterns and Utilization Among Patients With New-Onset Neck Pain by Initial Provider Specialty.

Fenton JJ, Fang SY, Ray M, Kennedy J, Padilla K, Amundson R, Elton D, Haldeman S, Lisi AJ, Sico J, Wayne PM, Romano PS. Longitudinal Care Patterns and Utilization Among Patients With New-Onset Neck Pain by Initial Provider Specialty. Spine. 2023 Oct 15; 48(20):1409-1418.

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STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. OBJECTIVE: To compare utilization patterns for patients with new-onset neck pain by initial provider specialty. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Initial provider specialty has been associated with distinct care patterns among patients with acute back pain; little is known about care patterns among patients with acute neck pain. METHODS: De-identified administrative claims and electronic health record data were derived from the Optum Labs Data Warehouse, which contains longitudinal health information on over 200M enrollees and patients representing a mixture of ages and geographical regions across the United States. Patients had outpatient visits for new-onset neck pain from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2019, classified by initial provider specialty. Utilization was assessed during a 180-day follow-up period, including subsequent neck pain visits, diagnostic imaging, and therapeutic interventions. RESULTS: The cohort included 770,326 patients with new-onset neck pain visits. The most common initial provider specialty was chiropractor (45.2%), followed by primary care (33.4%). Initial provider specialty was strongly associated with the receipt of subsequent neck pain visits with the same provider specialty. Rates and types of diagnostic imaging and therapeutic interventions during follow-up also varied widely by initial provider specialty. While uncommon after initial visits with chiropractors ( = 2%), CT, or MRI scans occurred in over 30% of patients with initial visits with emergency physicians, orthopedists, or neurologists. Similarly, 6.8% and 3.4% of patients initially seen by orthopedists received therapeutic injections and major surgery, respectively, compared with 0.4% and 0.1% of patients initially seen by a chiropractor. CONCLUSION: Within a large national cohort, chiropractors were the initial provider for a plurality of patients with new-onset neck pain. Compared with patients initially seen by physician providers, patients treated initially by chiropractors or therapists received fewer and less costly imaging services and were less likely to receive invasive therapeutic interventions during follow-up. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: 3.

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